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Frustrating By Technology

August 12th, 2013 Comments off

I am a fan of computer technology: it permits us to create, communicate, and store data in many useful ways. I work hard at keeping up my skills in using various systems and software on many platforms including Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS and Android. But sometimes I am frustrated when things don’t work properly.

I am now teaching an on-line class in business law. The on-line classroom is hosted by an older version of Moodle. Unfortunately this software is a disaster in the user interface design and in the lack of documentation. For example, you cannot create and edit an on-line “quiz” from one screen: you have to navigate to the quiz feature from different sources to access certain features. Some options are edited from “update the quiz,” others from “edit the quiz,” and still others from “edit questions.” The details are complicated and uninteresting, but it is a mess.

I created a compatible electronic quiz using the software from the book publisher (which also has severe design flaws). This software allows using prepared questions, my custom modifications of the prepared questions, and my own questions. I created the quiz, saved it in one format, then exported it to another format compatible in Moodle, and then imported it into Moodle. (Even the import feature in Moodle violates all the standards of ¬†UI design — when selecting the import file from the pop-up window, you click the tiny text next to the file that states “choose.” The “Open” button does nothing.)

The quiz imported and everything seems to work correctly except that Moodle would not display the entire quiz when tested in “preview” mode. After spending a considerable amount of time trouble-shooting, it was discovered that one question had missing data and this was causing the system to hang. No error message of course. The problem was fixed by deleting the corrupted questions and entering the data manually. It is unclear whether the test generating software or Moodle was at fault for the data corruption.

The point of the story is that we are often compelled to use systems which are poorly designed and which even the best-prepared user lacks the tools to trouble-shoot. It is frustrating to have to use this technology when there are no tools (or inadequate tools) provided to solve the inevitable problems. My computer skills are above-average. I can only imagine the deep frustration of users who have these experiences but lack my experience in dealing with such issues.

P.S.: After writing this entry and clicking publish, WordPress froze and it has taken about 5 minutes to get back to where I was. Is it WordPress or my crappy hosting service? No way to know. More frustration. At least my data was saved.

 

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